As the days passed after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and anger turned into outrage and outrage turned into protests, Boston University men’s basketball coach Joe Jones ran through a gamut of emotions.
“I’ve literally cried every day,” said Jones, a 54-year-old native of Long Island who is Black.
Jones had seen the video of Derek Chauvin pinning his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. It was jarring and saddening, like so many videos he had seen before.
“I’ve seen way too much,” he said. “I’ve seen so much footage of so many people. Little kids being mistreated, police having people in custody and beating them up while they’re in custody, shooting people as they run away. You name it, I’ve seen it. We’ve got to find a way to be better.”
Floyd’s death has sparked an an outpouring of reactions to the latest incident of high-profile police brutality that has become a tragic part of American’s fabric. Jones’s response echoes that of many: There must be change — true change — immediately.
On Monday, BU athletics held a town meeting with its staff and athletes. The conversation was left open for nearly 90 minutes. The more people shared, the more it struck a chord for Jones.
“It was gut-wrenching to hear how people felt,” Jones said. “It’s just so freaking sad. It’s just sad.”
What makes this moment different from so many in the past is the collective awareness of the work that needs to be done to facilitate change.
“I’ve gotten strength from our people,” Jones said.
“From Martin Luther King to Harriet Tubman. You gain strength through them, through their plight, to kind of put us in the position that we’re in. I actually feel very fortunate to be who I am and to get this far to be a Division 1 coach for going on 17 years next year. You just feel fortunate, and to be honest with you, I’ve got to do a better job. It’s not just to be a mentor to my players and make sure that I have a staff that’s diverse. I have to do more in my community. I’ve got to find a way to do more and I’m going to be committed to that. This is what this has taught me.”
“Hopefully there is some good that comes out of it because it’s one of the most horrific things I’ve ever seen. Thank goodness it was videotaped and hopefully it’s touched people — and not just Black people, hopefully, it’s touched people because this is about humanity. This is about fairness.
“This is the first thing you learn when you’re growing up is to treat people with respect. This is what you learn when you’re in kindergarten. How are we losing that? That’s the first thing that we’re supposed to be about and our society has shown that we’re not about that.”
The head coach at BU since 2011, Jones guided the Terriers to a 21-13 season and the Patriot League tournament title in March. Prior, he was the associate head coach at Boston College on Steve Donahue’s staff for a season following seven years at the helm at Columbia. His older brother, James, is entering his 22nd season as the coach at Yale.
Joe Jones played college ball at SUNY Oswego. His accomplishments have helped him garner a level of respect which he understands is a luxury not afforded to many people who look like him. George Floyd played high school basketball at Yates High School in Houston. He spent two years at community college, went back to Houston, where he worked on cars, and also was a part of the Screwed Up Click rap collective that gave birth to a sound popularized by today’s major artists.
Jones’s path may be different from Floyd’s, but their outcomes shouldn’t be.
“We have jobs, we’re educated,” he said. “People look at us a certain way. How about the brother that’s not educated? How about that person. So it’s not enough that we are going to say, “We’ve just got to deal with what this is?” That’s not good enough. Because the brother next door, he’s going through a much rougher time than you’re going through.
“Our lives mean more than just the things we’re able to buy or able to achieve. It means more than that. All our lives mean more than that. We have to impact other people. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing. I firmly believe in that. And we’ve just got to understand that there’s more work to be done.”
The most tangible way to affect change has always been at the ballot box, and Jones said that’s where the work must once again be focused.
“Our people need to start voting,” he said. “We need to do more. We need to figure out a way to get the masses and communities in Boston that have been under-represented to vote. To me, we’ve got to get people in there that look like us, we’ve got to get people in there that think like us. We have to keep the fight going.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.